DETROIT — General Motors Corp. says it is launching an initiative to place more women in charge of GM dealerships.

The program, called the Women's Retail Initiative, seeks to make more women owners and operators of dealerships, as well as focus on the needs of female customers, the company said. In addition, the program will work to promote women into prominent dealership management jobs, the company said.

This is GM's first attempt at recruiting women to own dealerships, said Patricia Roberts, general director of the program. Roberts said GM started the program so that its dealers can reflect its buyers.

Adding more women to GM's dealerships is crucial because women make up half of all auto purchases and influence more than 80 percent of purchases, she said.

Roberts said the initiative is closely related to GM's Minority Dealer Development Program, which aims to make more minorities owners of dealerships. Requirements for the women's program are the same as those of the minority program, Roberts said.

GM is looking for women who have had experience running a dealership or business and have at least $125,000 in unencumbered capital, or 15 percent of the initial investment, Roberts said.

GM will be recruiting women from dealerships, various women's organizations and within the company, Roberts said. It is also likely that many women will seek out the program on their own, she said.

Once accepted into GM's program, participants will be trained at the National Automobile Dealers Association Academy for one year, Roberts said.

Those selected will also go through GM's formal training, she said.

Roberts declined to say how many women she expects to recruit for the program, but she noted that she already has a group of women ready to enter the academy class this summer.

Art Spinella, vice president and general manager of CNW Marketing/Research in Bandon, Ore., said it is likely GM will boost its number of female dealers in the short-term, but the program won't make a big dent.

Of GM's 7,500 franchised dealerships, only 203 of them are owned by women, the company said. Spinella said it is unlikely the program will significantly increase GM's number of female buyers because its products — including lots of big sport-utility vehicles — are more geared for men.

"GM has a really bad history of making cars for women," Spinella said. "I don't see this going very far."